From tranquil backwaters less than an hour from Adelaide to sprawling wetlands brimming with life in the Riverland, the Murray River carves its way more than 650 kilometres through South Australia.
Captain your own houseboat and experience this staggering waterway from the vantage point of your own hotel with a rudder. Slow down to river speed as ancient gums, picturesque riverside towns, masses of wildlife, sprawling mallees and towering cliffs pass by. Whether you’re planning a quick weekend punt, a four-night cruise or week-long jaunt, here’s our guide to houseboating on the Murray River, departing from and returning to Mannum.
From luxury floating pads to comfortable family-friendly vessels, hiring a houseboat is one of the most immersive and affordable ways to explore the Murray River. Carpe Diem Houseboats, Unforgettable Houseboats and White Houseboats all depart from Mannum, while more options await downriver in Murray Bridge. Check out our full guide to houseboat hire on the Murray River and start planning.
WEEKEND HOUSEBOAT ITINERARY
Mannum to Bowhill
36kms approximately 5 hours cruise time
Plonked on the lush banks of the Murray River, Mannum is a tranquil riverside town and popular spot to embark on a houseboat adventure. Before setting sail, spend a few hours exploring; grab lunch at a local pub on the banks of the river, visit Hermann Gass Bird Sanctuary, hike to an impressive network of waterfalls in winter, then cast off on your adventure.
The journey upriver to Bowhill is a cruisy 5 hours, and an ice-cold beer awaits your arrival. A mecca for holiday makers and adventure lovers, the town is home to a handful of riverside shacks and its wide banks make conditions ideal for waters ports. Tie up for the night, then pull up a seat on the Bowhill General Store, serving a delicious pub-style menu. Stock up on supplies for the journey ahead before retreating to your houseboat to be lulled to by the gentle ebbs and flows of the river.
Bowhill to Walker Flat
22kms approximately 3 hours cruise time
Wake up to a chorus of bird song and sip your morning coffee from the deck of your houseboat as the sun trickles over the land. Experiencing sunrise on the river can be described as nothing short of spiritual. Cup filled, continue the journey upriver to Walker Flat. Bordered by imposing, ochre-coloured cliffs, find a spot to settle in for the night and kick back as the setting sun turns the cliffs into a glowing gold spectacular.
*If you’ve only got the weekend on the boat, then it’s time to meander back downstream to Mannum, stopping for a picnic on the banks of the river at Lake Carlet.
FOUR DAY HOUSEBOAT ITINERARY
Walker Flat to Big Bend
18kms approximately 2.5 hours cruise time
Continuing from the two-day itinerary, rise early at Walker Flat and hit the river. The next leg of the voyage takes in one of the most jaw-dropping landscapes along the Murray River. Upriver from Walker Flat, cruise past the tallest cliffs and longest bend on the Murray River at the aptly named Big Bend. Stop for a break and trek to the Big Bend lookout for a gun barrel view downriver or explore by night with a local guide on the Big Bend By Night tour. Spot nocturnal animals then gaze up at the milky way – the skies over the Murray River are officially among the best in the world for stargazing.
*If you’ve only got four nights on the boat, after your night at the Big Bend it’s time to meander back towards Mannum, mooring at Walker Flat, Purnong or Bowhill for your final night.
SEVEN DAY HOUEBOAT ITINERARY
Big Bend to Swan Reach
18kms approximately 2.5 hours cruise time
Some 96 kilometres upriver from Mannum, arrive in the picturesque river port of Swan Reach; the farthest destination on the week-long itinerary. Find a secluded mooring to claim for the night and spend the afternoon canoeing or kayaking down tranquil backwaters and billabongs teeming with birdlife. Cool off with a swim or cast a line and try your luck fishing for the illusive Murray Cod. If carp is all you hook, venture onto land for dinner with a view from your perch atop golden cliffs at the Swan Reach Hotel.
Swan Reach to Nildottie
21kms approximately 3 hours cruise time
Meander back downstream to start your relaxed return; your next destination is home to one of the South Australia’s most significant Aboriginal sites. Moor at Nildottie and step off your houseboat and back in time millions of years into the ancestral home of the Nganguraku People. Nildottie is home to Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park, where towering cliffs formed by an extinct seabed are the canvas for ancient rock art. The park is only accessible with a guide from the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Inc so book ahead. This stretch of the river is also home to abundant wildlife including kangaroos and wombats.
Nildottie to Younghusband
57kms approximately 8 hours cruise time
Leave early; the cruise to Younghusband is the lengthiest of the journey. An idyllic riverside settlement, Younghusband is in prime position to savour the final moments on river time. Launch your canoe or kayak from your cliffside mooring and explore flood plains and lagoons. Enjoy dinner on the boat and a final sundowner drink as the sunsets over the river.
Younghusband to Mannum
18 kms approximately 2.6 hours cruise time
Mannum lies a leisurely three-hour punt away, so enjoy a final sunrise breakfast then slowly make your way back down river to return your houseboat. Most hiring companies have a return time of around 10am, so set off early to return to Mannum in time.
- Average houseboat cruising speed is 7km/hour.
- Cruise times between destinations are approximate. For cruise times between towns along the Murray River, check out houseboatbookings.com for distance and travel times.
- The hours of passage through locks is generally 8am-11.30am and 1pm-4pm 7 days a week.
- Houseboats must be moored between sunset and sunrise.